Daily Archives: October 2nd, 2015

The Azhar Ali answer to Pakistan’s top-order woes

October 2, 2015

The Azhar Ali answer to Pakistan’s top-order woes

S Rajesh
In Pakistan’s Test history, no player batting in the top three positions has scored 4500 runs; Azhar Ali is well on course to becoming the first.
Only three Pakistan batsmen have scored more Test runs than Azhar Ali when batting in the top three slots © AFP

Since Test cricket began, 31 batsmen have scored 5000 or more runs when batting in the top three positions, from Kumar Sangakkara (11,916) and Rahul Dravid (11,331) to Richie Richardson (5142) and Don Bradman (5078). (Bradman’s aggregate is the lowest among these 31, but his average of 103.63 is obviously the best by far.) Of these 31 batsmen, there are eight each from Australia and England, four each from South Africa and West Indies, three each from India and Sri Lanka, and one from New Zealand.

That covers all major teams except one. There’s no one to represent Pakistan in this list. A country that has produced outstanding fast bowlers throughout Test history has struggled to produce as many batting luminaries, but the vacuum is especially glaring in terms of top-order batsmen. In the middle order, starting at No. 4 or lower, Pakistan have four batsmen who’ve scored 5000-plus runs – Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf and Saleem Malik – plus Younis Khan who has an aggregate of 4759, but in the top three positions the highest is only 4055, again by Younis. None of the others have even touched 4000, with Saeed Anwar next at 3976 runs from 89 innings. Anwar opened the batting in 86 out of 92 innings he played in Tests – and batted at No. 3 three times as well – but he played relatively few Tests given his class – 55, compared with 247 ODIs.

The good news for Pakistan is that their current incumbent at No. 3 could well break those records and surge past the 5000-run barrier as well. The 30-year-old Azhar Ali has been around Test cricket for five years, is firmly entrenched at No. 3, and has racked up more than 3000 runs at that slot. His average when batting in the top three is a respectable 44.28, which is third among Pakistani batsmen who’ve scored 2500-plus runs at these slots. With his best years as a batsman still arguably ahead of him, there is a fair chance that his average will go up as well over the next few years.

Pakistan’s top run-scorers at Nos. 1-3 in Tests
Player Inns Runs Ave 100 50
 Younis Khan  83  4055  51.32  13  12
 Saeed Anwar  89  3976  45.70  11  25
 Mudassar Nazar  109  3787  36.76  9  15
 Azhar Ali  77  3233  44.28  9  19
 Mohammad Hafeez  84  2970  39.07  8  10
 Taufeeq Umar  83  2963  37.98  7  14
 Majid Khan  70  2801  41.19  6  13
 Mohsin Khan  78  2671  37.09  7  9
 Hanif Mohammad  66  2666  41.65  7  12
 Aamer Sohail  78  2654  35.38  4  13
 Saeed Ahmed  60  2503  43.91  5  12

Recently there has been a fair amount of uncertainty over the No. 3 slot for a number of teams: Australia have pushed Steven Smith to that slot after experimenting with Shane Watson and a few others, England have ditched Gary Ballance, Sri Lanka are searching for Kumar Sangakkara’s replacement, Hashim Amla has dropped to No. 4 to shore up South Africa’s middle order after Jacques Kallis’ retirement, while India are playing a merry-go-round around that position with Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane (with Cheteshwar Pujara in the mix as well).

Amid all these movements, Azhar Ali has become one of the most well-entrenched No. 3s in Tests, along with New Zealand’s Kane Williamson. Since his debut in July 2010, Azhar has batted at No. 3 74 times in Tests; no other Pakistan batsman has batted there more than four times. In fact, since July 2010, only Sangakkara has batted more often at No. 3 (80 innings) than Azhar. In terms of averages he isn’t among the top five in the list below, but there is a good chance that he will climb up there over the next few years.

Batsmen at No. 3 in Tests since Jul 2010 (Min 25 inngs)
Batsman Inns Runs Average SR 100 50
 Hashim Amla  45  2654  66.35  58.17  11  10
 Kumar Sangakkara  80  4763  65.24  52.46  17  20
 Gary Ballance  25  1169  50.82  48.30  4  6
 Kane Williamson  56  2605  50.09  46.97  8  12
 Cheteshwar Pujara  39  1814  49.02  48.36  6  4
 Jonathan Trott  62  2670  46.03  47.43  6  15
 Azhar Ali  74  3153  45.04  40.97  9  19
 Darren Bravo  31  1190  41.03  44.88  2  7
 Rahul Dravid  40  1554  40.89  42.17  5  5
 Shane Watson  27  987  37.96  56.14  2  6
 Kirk Edwards  25  781  32.54  46.07  2  5

One aspect of his game that Azhar needs to work on, though, is his strike rate: among the 20 batsmen who have faced at least 5000 deliveries since July 2010, which is when he made his Test debut, Azhar’s strike rate of 40.72 is easily the lowest; the next-lowest is Alastair Cook’s 44.98. His dot-ball percentage of 77 is the highest – marginally higher than Jonathan Trott – while he has only scored 39% of his runs in fours and sixes, which is also the least among all batsmen. (Chanderpaul is next at 40%.) The combination of those two factors – high dot-ball and low boundary percentage – means Azhar tends to get stuck more than most other batsmen.

Among these batsmen who have faced at least 5000 deliveries since July 2010, Azhar’s average of 44.06 ranks 16th, but in terms of balls faced per dismissal, he is ranked eighth, which again indicates he doesn’t always convert time spent at the crease into runs. Joe Root, for example, faces three fewer balls per dismissal compared to Azhar (105 to 108), but he averages 10.6 runs more per dismissal (54.66 to 44.06). That’s because Root has a much higher strike rate of 52.28, compared to Azhar’s 40.72.

The good news for Azhar fans is that he is clearly showing signs of improving on that front too: since 2014, he has increased his strike rate to 44.45, and in 2015 alone it’s 48.17. That’s also a function of him showing better form and scoring more runs – he has averaged 57.04 during this period, with five centuries in 13 Tests. Also, he has found success as an ODI batsman too in 2015, scoring 664 runs at an average of 55 and strike rate of 86 from 12 matches. All of these numbers indicate a batsman whose graph is on the upswing, and a batsman whose best is yet to come.

Highest balls per dismissal for batsmen since Jul 2010 (Min 5000 balls faced)
Player Inns Runs Ave Strike rate 100 Balls/dismissal
 Shivnarine Chanderpaul  65  2898  59.14  45.04  8  131
 Misbah-ul-Haq  67  2992  56.45  45.76  6  123
 Younis Khan  68  3554  61.27  51.06  14  120
 Kumar Sangakkara  86  4851  61.40  52.22  17  118
 Hashim Amla  61  3387  62.72  54.88  13  114
 AB de Villiers  57  3374  63.66  56.63  11  112
 Angelo Mathews  79  3422  54.31  48.67  7  112
 Azhar Ali  82  3393  44.06  40.72  9  108
 Alastair Cook  112  5133  48.42  44.98  15  108
 Joe Root  58  2733  54.66  52.28  8  105
 Steven Smith  63  3095  56.27  55.83  11  101
 Kane Williamson  75  3199  45.70  45.67  10  100

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

Australia No. 1 in ICC rankings for women

Women’s cricket news October 1, 2015

Australia No. 1 in ICC rankings for women

ESPNcricinfo staff
Australia and England are the no. 1 and 2 ranked women’s teams © Getty Images

Australia’s dominance in all three formats has resulted in them taking first place in the new ICC rankings for women’s teams. England are second with 124 points, ten behind Australia.

The women’s ranking is a combined Test, ODI and T20 ranking, whereas the men’s teams have a separate ranking for each format.

“The innovative new system treats results from Test, ODI and T20I cricket equally,” the ICC said. “This means there will be rankings points to play for in every international match, while the volume of matches will ensure the table is a credible reflection of overall performance.

“The rankings table is based on results between three and four years, but with the first two years being weighted at only 50 per cent. Currently, results from October 2012 to September 2014 are weighted at 50%, while results since October 2014 are weighted at 100%.”

Australia’s standing was a result of their victory in the 2013 World Cup in India and the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh, and their lead position in the ICC Women’s Championship.

“It’s certainly nice to be recognised as world number one. We’ve done a lot of hard work in the past few years to win the ICC Women’s World Cup and ICC Women’s World Twenty, as well as the Ashes recently,” Australia captain Meg Lanning said. “We are looking forward to staying at the top of the tree for a long time, which is going to be a big challenge but we have the players to do that.”

Pakistan news September 2, 2015

PCB seeks clarification on India series in December

PCB chief Shaharyar Khan believes an India-Pakistan series will help reduce tensions between the two countries © AFP

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has, in a letter to the BCCI, sought clarity on the mooted bilateral series this December, pointing out that it was part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed last year by the two boards. The letter, written on Tuesday by PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan to BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur, comes in the wake of a growing sentiment in India – and echoed by the BCCI – that bilateral cricket ties should be suspended given the current political tensions between the two countries.

The MOU, for a total of six series between 2015 and 2023, had been agreed to during the ICC meeting last year and was the basis of Pakistan’s conditional support – after initial opposition – to the ICC’s organisational revamp.

However political events in the recent past have cast doubts over the revival of the India-Pakistan series as planned. Thakur himself scotched the possibility of cricket resuming till political equations had stabilised. In his letter today, Shaharyar called Thakur’s statement a “negative shadow” on the PCB-BCCI relationship.

“I am much hopeful that the Indian government will give its go-ahead to our series regardless of any routine border tension,” Shaharyar wrote. He said the series would help both countries reduce the tension, referring to the series in 1999 when Pakistan toured India despite issues caused by fringe political activists, as well as the return tour by India to Pakistan in 2003-04 despite security concerns.

The letter also addressed the issues surrounding Ten Sports’ deal with the PCB. The PCB had recently signed a five-year deal with the broadcaster, but its ties to the Essel Group, which has threatened to form a breakaway international league, had caused issues.

ESPNcricinfo understands that some cricket boards had been reluctant to play any series in which Ten Sports is the host broadcaster, leading to a delay in firming up the plans for a series between England and Pakistan.

Shaharyar said in the letter that the issues had been resolved and ICC and Ten Sports had agreed on an MOU in which the broadcaster stated that it has no intention of being part of any rival league. Shaharyar met Subhash Chandra (the owner of Ten Sports) in London last month to clear any doubts on the matter. The MOU between the ICC and Ten Sports is, however, reportedly yet to be reviewed by the BCCI.

India have not played a bilateral Test series against Pakistan since 2007, though they did host them for two T20Is and three ODIs between December 2012 and January 2013.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @kalson

Pakistan v Bangladesh, 2nd women’s T20I October 1, 2015

Bismah Maroof leads Pakistan to series win

Pakistan women 114 for 6 (Maroof 44*, Akter 2-27) beat Bangladesh women 80 for 7 (Siddiqi 2-9, Dar 2-15) by 34 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Pakistan women beat the visiting Bangladesh women by 34 runs to win the series 2-0 at Southend Club Cricket Stadium, Karachi.

Having chosen to bat, Pakistan were struggling at 61 for 4 in 13 overs, with Bangladesh left-arm spinner Nahida Akter affecting a run-out and taking two quick wickets, including that of Marina Iqbal for 33.

Like she had done in the first game, Bishmah Maroof steadied the innings with 44 off 38 balls, and with Aliya Riaz, steered Pakistan towards the modest total of 114.

Bangladesh once again chased poorly, losing their first five wickets for 12 runs in 12 overs. Rumana Ahmed was the top scorer with 27 off 33 balls, but there was no momentum and the innings finished on 80 for 7.

Pakistan v England 2015-16 October 1, 2015

England series looms as Misbah’s swansong

Misbah-ul-Haq: “Sometimes it’s not about fitness, it’s about how much interest you have in the game.” © AFP

The series against England in the UAE is shaping as the last for Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq. Although he had initially hoped to continue until next year’s tour of England, the forthcoming contest is looking increasingly likely to be the final chapter of an international career which began in 2001.

“I have come to a certain stage of my career where I have started considering [retirement],” Misbah, 41, told ESPNcricinfo. “I was thinking that the upcoming India series would be the point when I will decide what to do. But since I don’t see the India series happening so the next one-and-half months will be important. I am giving second thoughts whether I can extend my career until the 2016 England series.”

The series against India, scheduled to take place in the UAE at the end of the year, now appears unlikely to happen due to the tense political landscape which would mean an eight-month gap before the series against England next July. Since Misbah has already retired from ODI and T20 cricket he will have little chance for competitive cricket after the Pakistan domestic season concludes in February.

“I have been considering so many factors as it’s a very hard decision, in fact one of the toughest ones to take,” Misbah said. “So in the next one-and-half months I will be analysing myself as to how far I can go. I will see how much I can contribute in for the team, I will see if my passion remains the same or I start losing interest in the game. Sometimes it’s not about fitness, it’s about how much interest you have in the game and I don’t want to be a liability. So whatever the decision you will know soon.”

For the upcoming series, starting with the first Test in Abu Dhabi on October 13, Misbah said he will be guarding against the team being over confident after they whitewashed England in 2012. Misbah, along with Azhar Ali, Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq, will form the same middle order which featured in that series. He, along with several other Test players, are currently having a conditioning camp at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, while the one-day side is in Zimbabwe, before leaving for the UAE on October 4.

“Within our mind we are confident,” Misbah said. “But at the same time creating a perception about our past victory against them by 3-0 doesn’t make any difference. This is fresh series. England are a much-improved side and are coming after playing their best cricket back home. They are a far better side in terms of playing spin and this is the reason I stand guarded against us being over confident.

Misbah-ul-Haq is well aware of the different class of spinner England are bring on this tour compared to 2012 Gareth Copley / © Getty Images

“Having won 3-0 previously doesn’t mean that they are still a soft target and we can wrap them up easily. No, it’s not that simple. We have to understand that setting the expectation level based on the previous series isn’t a fair call. We simply have to work very hard and play at our full potential to win. I don’t think that previous series victory is going to help us and we don’t need to put undue pressure on us with it. It’s not that we can’t win, but I just want to insist that you can’t ride on the past to make your future.”

In 2012, England arrived in the UAE following a lengthy lay-off from Test cricket having not played a match in five months after beating India, at The Oval, in August 2011 to go to No. 1 in the world. But this time they have flown in having won the Ashes less than two months ago, although they only have two two-day warm-up matches before the first Test which Alastair Cook has admitted is not much preparation.

While Misbah reiterated his belief that England now play spin better than when they previously faced Pakistan, it did not escape him that their spin bowling resources are significantly ‘weaker’ than in 2012 having lost both Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.

“They are in good form, so are we, but we have to play good cricket,” Misbah said. “There is a difference in their squad as many of their players have started to play the spin very well. They have changed their game, as we have seen they are using their feet and sweeping all over so we have to be on our toes to get their wickets.

“Their fast bowling is the same but their spinners are weaker this time in the absence of Swann and Panesar. We have answers to their experienced fast bowlers, we understand we have to work hard to negotiate the new ball and later the reverse swing. Their bowling never gave us the chance to score big runs in 2012, but we have plans this time and in the UAE it’s all about scoring big runs.

“In the UAE conditions runs on the board are very important and then the spinners play the vital role. When Australia came we had answers so is it’s the same this time. Australia had Nathan Lyon, England have Moeen but what is important is who is going to bat well in these conditions.”

England played their cricket very aggressively against Australia, with none of the five Ashes Test going into the fifth day, but Misbah suggested it will very different in this series.

“You can’t just go all out aggressively like the cricket England have been playing back home. It’s different in the UAE. You can’t just be defensive either, though. As I said, you need to have big runs on board and that requires patience as pitches here change their behaviour on a daily basis especially on the fourth and fifth day. So there are a lot of factors that mean you need to have a balanced approach. And that is the key.”

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @kalson

Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 1st ODI, Harare October 1, 2015

Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 1st ODI, Harare October 1, 2015
Pakistan batsman Imad Wasim (L) plays a shot as teammate Mohammad Rizwan prepares to run during the first in a series of three One Day International (ODI) cricket matches between Pakistan and hosts Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club, in Harare on October 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JEKESAI NJIKIZANA (Photo credit should read JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistan batsman Imad Wasim (L) plays a shot as teammate Mohammad Rizwan prepares to run during the first in a series of three One Day International (ODI) cricket matches between Pakistan and hosts Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club, in Harare on October 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JEKESAI NJIKIZANA (Photo credit should read JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Yasir six-for leads Pakistan to 131-run win
Pakistan 259 for 6 (Rizwan 75*, Wasim 61) beat Zimbabwe 128 (Yasir 6-26) by 131 runs
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball-details
Pakistan cruised to a 131-run win over Zimbabwe in the first one-day international at Harare Sports Club, the match following what has become a familiar script during this tour. Pakistan’s lower middle order rallied their side to a good score, and their spin attack, led by Yasir Shah’s 6 for 26, then systematically dismantled Zimbabwe’s line-up. Yasir’s haul was the second best by a Pakistan spinner, and the best ever by a spinner in Zimbabwe.

Asked to bat first, Pakistan’s top order stumbled against a spirited Zimbabwean bowling effort before Mohammad Rizwan’s career-best 75 not out and Imad Wasim’s 61, which was his maiden international fifty, boosted the visitors to a challenging 259 for 6. Rizwan and Wasim had added 124 for the sixth wicket, but no Zimbabwean partnership came close to matching them as the hosts crumbled under sustained pressure.

Once again, the batsmen struggled to rotate the strike and then inevitably offered Pakistan chances as they sought to ease the pressure with a big shot. The 35-run stand between Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza was the most substantial of the innings, and legspinner Yasir collected his first five-for in ODIs with Zimbabwe having no answer to his combination of turn, bounce and guile.

Pakistan had been reduced to a wobbly 35 for 3 in the morning as Zimbabwe’s new-ball bowlers found seam and swing on a slightly resher wicket before Sarfraz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik combined to take the score to 100. When they were both dismissed attempting to attack spin Zimbabwe surged once again, but Rizwan and Wasim weathered their best efforts.

Rizwan marshalled Pakistan’s effort from the halfway mark of their innings, starting watchfully against Zimbabwe’s spinners before he broke free with what was perhaps the shot of the day; a checked loft off offspinner John Nyumbu that soared over long on. With Nyumbu, Graeme Cremer and Sean Williams all included in Zimbabwe’s XI, Rizwan faced spin for much of his innings. He certainly showed that he had the aptitude to counter these bowlers in helpful conditions, milking the gaps and finding the boundary with a sweep off Cremer and a deft late cut off Nyumbu.

A particular feature of Rizwan’s stand with Wasim was their running between the wickets: something which had been highlighted as an area of concern for both teams after the Twenty20s. Eight twos came off Rizwan’s bat during their stand, while Wasim added seven. This ensured that the score kept ticking over even when boundaries were not forthcoming, and set the platform for Pakistan’s charge at the death.

Pakistan added 88 runs in the last ten overs as the big hits became more frequent, with Rizwan bringing up a 61-ball fifty in the 46th over. Wasim brought up a maiden international fifty of his own two overs later, reaching the mark with a superb reverse sweep off Tinashe Panyangara. Wasim had been given a life thanks to Williams’ drop at long-on earlier in the over, and there was a ragged edge to Zimbabwe’s effort at the death. Tempers also flared in Panyangara’s final over, from which Pakistan plundered 22 runs, as the bowler took offence to what he saw as Rizwan’s intentional obstruction of his fielding efforts. The batsman stood his ground as Sikandar Raza played peacemaker, and closed the innings on an emphatic note with his second six, straight over the bowler’s head.

Pakistan carried that bellicose attitude into the field, and both Zimbabwean openers were given a thorough working over with the new ball. Yet all 10 wickets fell to spin. Chamu Chibhabha averages 19.72 in matches in which he has been dismissed by a left-arm spinner, and has collected more ducks against this type of bowler than any other – three. He had opened his account by the time Wasim was brought on in the ninth over, but then fell immediately, trapped in front by the left-arm spinner’s first ball.

Yasir then took centre stage, nipping one through the yawning gap between debutant Brian Chari’s bat and pad and skittling Hamilton Masakadza with a ball that kept a touch low and rushed on. Raza and Elton Chigumbura fell on the drive, failing to cover Yasir’s prodigious spin, while Richmond Mutumbami’s dismissal came via a stunning reflex catch, low to the ground, by Hafeez at slip. When Panyangara gloved one to slip Yasir had his sixth, and Zimbabwe had crashed from 101 for 4 to 128 all out.

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape TownZim v Pak, 1st ODI, Harare October 1, 2015

Pakistan’s second-best and all ten to spinners.

6/26 Yasir Shah’s bowling figures today – the second-best by a Pakistan spinner in ODIs behind Shahid Afridi’s 7 for 13 against West Indies in 2013. Yasir, however, did better Ajantha Mendis’ 6 for 29 in 2008 to record the best haul for a spinner in Zimbabwe.

10 Wickets to Pakistan’s spinners in this game. Besides Yasir, Shoaib Malik chipped in with three and Imad Wasim took one, making it only the sixth time in ODI history that spinners had taken all the 10 wickets in a match. The last instance was also by Pakistan, in 2011, when Mohammad Hafeez, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal and Shoaib Malik combined to topple Bangladesh in Chittagong.

124 Runs added by the sixth-wicket pair of Mohammad Rizwan and Wasim, making it Pakistan’s highest against Zimbabwe in ODIs. It was also their second century stand against Zimbabwe for that wicket, after the 116-run stand between Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi in Multan in 2008.

8 Times that Pakistan’s sixth wicket has added 100 or more runs after having lost their first five for less than 150 in an ODI. Today, Pakistan had 128 on the board when they fifth batsman fell. The partnership between Rizwan and Wasim is also Pakistan’s third-highest for the sixth wicket when they have lost their first five for less than 150.

131 Margin by which Zimbabwe lost this match, their third-worst defeat against Pakistan when fielding first and the worst against them at home. The last time Zimbabwe lost by a bigger margin to Pakistan was in 2004 when they were beaten by 144 runs in Multan.

2005 The last time Pakistan’s Nos. 4 to 7 each scored 30 or more runs in an ODI. Including today’s instance, this has happened only three times for Pakistan. It was also the ninth time both Pakistan’s No. 6 and No. 7 had made fifties in an ODI.

75 Runs scored by Rizwan in this match – his highest ODI score and his third fifty-plus score in eight innings. He has made 295 runs at an average of 59.00.

3.12 Chamu Chibhabha’s economy rate in this match – his second-best in an ODI. Chibhabha bowled eight overs including a maiden and gave away 25 runs. Mohammad Irfan’s economy rate of 1.75 was also his second-best in an ODI. Irfan bowled just four overs including two maidens and conceded just seven runs.

Shiva Jayaraman is a senior sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo.com
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